Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



This is a chapter from the new book The Vigilante Echo. Previous chapters have made clear that some vigilantism can be morally justified where the government has failed in its promise under the social contract to protect and to do justice. But this chapter explains how even moral vigilante action can be problematic for the larger society. Vigilantes may try to do the right thing but are likely to lack the training and professional neutrality of police. They may be successful, but only on pushing the crime problem to an adjacent neighborhood. Because their open lawbreaking may seem admirable to many, it may help inspire extremists and may undermine the criminal law’s claim to be a reliable authority on what is and is not truly condemnable. On balance, official police action is always to be preferred over vigilantism, even moral vigilantism.


Criminal law, law & society, self help, vigilantism, moral vigilantes, crime control, failures of justice, training, professional neutrality, displacement, condemnability, minority views, extremists

Publication Title

The Vigilante Echo: How Failures of Justice Inspire Lawlessness

Publication Citation

In The Vigilante Echo: How Failures of Justice Inspire Lawlessness (forthcoming 2018).